Master of Kung Fu
An interview with Kung Fu Master - Yang Longfei - on how to balance mind and body.
You named your martial arts association “Xin Wu Men.” What’s the meaning of the name?
I’ve practiced and taught martial arts for more than 40 years. I increasingly feel that the roots of Chinese martial arts come from the wisdom of our divinely-inspired heritage. In 2004, one of my masters in China wrote the inscription of “Xin Wu Men” for me. Xin means the “heart,” representing our thinking and soul; Wu means “martial arts” and techniques; and the final word, Men, means “gate” and represents the way through which we must pass.
Many people now think of martial arts as a way to get fit and learn self defense, but you often speak of the mental aspect of martial arts.
The martial arts I first learned were mainly external: positions, strength, speed, and explosive power. I didn’t know much about the traditional techniques. Growing up in mainland China, the cultural environment was barren, and the orthodox martial arts culture was cut off. Our practice was based on physical skills. Just like a sport, you just need to run, know how to increase muscles, and be explosive. Because I came up in that environment, I had no patience and wanted everything to be fast. Later, as I grew older, I became more and more interested in traditional Taijiquan [similar to the common practice of tai chi], soft mantis boxing, and internal standing methods. I then began to understand the theories of traditional martial arts.
After settling in the United States, I came to know the meditation and internal cultivation practice of Falun Gong at a martial arts competition. Through practicing Falun Gong, I came to understand the nature of martial arts qigong, which is a type of divinely-inspired culture.
So I started to pay more attention to spiritual cultivation, which is to improve morality. I found that this has broadened my thinking. I understand things that I couldn’t figure out before, and my martial art skills have improved. For example, in martial arts, the art of attack and defense is just like two people talking. One person asks questions and the other answers, but they cannot quarrel. When you can let go of yourself, you can understand and tolerate the other side more. When he punches you, you’re not fighting back, but letting his strength pass, and then you will find that what follows the punch is weakness. When you fight back at this point, he cannot defend himself. This is to let go of everything, focusing on resolution rather than confrontation—turning the opponent’s strength into something empty.
After finding inner peace in the movie Kung Fu Panda, the title character Po becomes the “Dragon Warrior,” with great martial arts. Is the inner peace the film talks about similar to the mental method you mention?
According to traditional martial art practices, when your mind is quiet, wisdom will come, and your practice becomes easier. Tai Lung in the film is very fierce and arrogant, while the Panda looks awkward, but he has wisdom. Master Oogway makes him reach a state of defeating movement with quietness, and overcoming hardness with softness. Rigid and soft compensate each other. Softness overcomes hardness, which develops the wisdom and potential of the human body.
You have taught thousands of students overseas, most of them Westerners. What impact has martial arts had on them?
When I taught martial arts in South Africa, I had a student named Haly. He had autism and a bad relationship with his parents. He also smoked a lot. After learning martial arts from me, he became active, because all my students train together. At first, he was unwilling to get up early. Later, he was the first one to come to my home for class at six o’clock in the morning. He likes standing qigong, Chinese culture, and Chinese food. His girlfriend said that he was a very autistic person before and didn’t like to talk to people; it was martial arts that changed his life.
Practicing martial arts is not to defeat others, but to defeat the old self, one’s faults, and bad character. Traditional martial arts requests you to be righteous in everything you do. When practicing boxing, your spine must be upright. You have to learn to endure and persevere. Everything must be done, no matter how hard and tiring it is, and no matter how painful it is.
In addition to correcting life habits and improving temperament, medically speaking, how do traditional Chinese martial arts strengthen people’s physique?
Martial arts can work all the 639 muscles and 206 bones in the body and fully circulate the nutrients and energy of the body through the internal organs and meridians. People who practice martial arts have to understand the structure of the body and the meridians. That understanding leads to good habits in life, and you can use the principles of martial arts even in how you eat or move. For example, when we walk, we keep our knee joints and crotch relaxed, the upper body free and supple, and use dantian [abdomen] breathing, so we’re not tired when walking long distances. This is very similar to meditating and standing qigong.
Dantian breathing refers to a basic breathing method wherein you inhale through the nose, allowing the air to reach the dantian energy field in the lower abdomen. This process is very long. It will bring in energy, supplement the internal organs with oxygen, activate the organs, and train internal muscles.